Isaac Hayes. Eddie Deezen. Juliette Lewis. Elisabeth Moss. Forest Whitaker. John Travolta. Tom Cruise. Scientology has claimed the minds of many, though if I’m being honest, I’m probably most bummed about Frank Stallone. Yes, our very own Frank Stallone. At the heart of Scientology is the belief that humans are immortal. We can all agree that this is easily disproved—just ask anyone who’s dead. There’s also the belief that an alien dictator named Xenu and his kind arrived on our planet millions of years ago, and for whatever reason, he killed them off and now the spirits of these slain aliens bond to people today. Again, this is also easily disproved—just ask an alien.
Fifteen years before the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, there was The Screaming, an extremely thinly veiled send-up of everyone’s favorite Hollywood psycho-cult. The fun is figuring out which details are pure fictitious horror and which are pure fictitious “religion.”
Inside the Temple of Crystalogy, which is an actual pyramid (and sports arena) at Cal State Long Beach, a woman gets murdered by a bloody winged monster that has no skin. Just down the street, Bob Martin, a nebbish, mop-topped, chain-smoking writer with an unforgivable soul patch has moved into a vacant apartment. He lusts after his new neighbor Crystal, who just happens to be a high-ranking member of Crystology. After being hypnotized by a crystal, Bob experiences gruesome visions of having his blood drawn and sucked into a mason jar. Could it be real? He wakes up pale and sweaty, but without the urge to smoke. He’s a new man! He begins working out, which leads to a lengthy scene where Crystal coaches him to do push-ups and sit-ups. Clear body, clear mind, she explains. Soon Bob uncovers the dark truth about Crystology, which is based on the belief that the psyche has two parts, and one represses the other (to learn more, read Dianetics). Founder and author of Crystalnetics R. R. Deepak “proved scientifically the impulses that we aren’t even aware of” and now “we’re all just blimps on the oceans of consciousness.” It’s heavy shit, man. Soon Bob encounters a menacing demon, finger-lickin’ good cannibalism, bloody knives, a vicious but adorable cat, a healthy dose of cleavage, and a private investigator named—you guessed it—Detective Ketchum. We will never know how he got his name. No, just kidding, he explains it, very slowly.
Scientology is an easy target for derision, and The Screaming doesn’t pull its punches. Writer/director Jeff Leroy gleefully makes fun of Scientology’s core tenants, as well as its commercials. But the film is also ambitious, stuffed with the best effects $50 can buy, including stop-motion claymation, ghoulish face paint, and a noose made out of entrails. While it does lag at times—we never need to watch anyone do reverse sit-ups—the film gloriously careens in the final fifteen minutes. The Screaming almost makes you want to read L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics just to see how much of this bat-shit insanity is actually based in truth. But in this case, the movie is probably better than the book.